Unearthing Employment Brand

Until recently I was not a huge believer in putting a lot of effort, money, or time into driving company employment branding initiatives. It felt a little fluffy to me, and, honestly, I thought recruiting was a hands-on discipline (cold calling, relationship building, networking, etc.) measured in end results like time to fill, cost per hire, time to source, etc. I didn’t understand the place employer branding held in an overall corporate recruiting strategy. Frankly I was not that engaged in the branding efforts either. My gut tells me there are a lot of recruiters out there that feel the same way.

I would also add that employment advertising started to all sound and look the same. I think “employer of choice” or “competitive salary and benefits” are phrases that have lost any real meaning. And in healthcare (my background), all ads seemed to look the same — smiling multi-cultural clinicians in scrub standing in front of a nurse’s station (if you haven’t noticed … it’s true — check it out).

Recently this perspective changed for me. I’ve taken a talent leadership role with an advertising agency (full disclosure: my company does not handle employment advertising) and I would say that I now “get it” …  at least way more than I ever did before. To this point, my exposure to employment branding has concentrated on coming up with clever job postings that sounded cool or trying to figure out the best place to post a position. That’s why employment branding didn’t connect to me.

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Let’s talk about what employment branding is and is not:

  • Employment messaging has to be based in real experiences. How does a target recruit experience your company? It has to be authentic. If the employment brand sells one thing and the recruit experiences something totally different, then organizational credibility is shot. Branding does not happen in a void separate from operational reality. Be prepared: tough conversations with operational teams may result!
  • Do you have a story to tell? As a corporate recruiter, especially, you tend to get overly focused on your own world. Take a moment and survey the field. Go look at job boards and career pages at a variety of competitors. What stands out? Do they look and feel a lot the same? Does the story sound a lot the same across organizations? Does your company stand out in the field in any real way?
  • Don’t say “Competitive compensation and benefits.” Two reasons: most people read this and hear that that your company pays the same as everyone else … not compelling. Second, it should not be a driver of your message.
  • You need a strategic platform that drives creative and messaging. I think too many recruiters are more concerned about “where” to place their advertising than whether the message is compelling, interesting, effective, or honest. Messaging should be the result of thoughtful research and strategy. The placement of advertising is the result of research and insight into your target recruit.

Below is a suggested branding path that should lead to a more effective employment branding and better success. This process isn’t earth shattering — just a fundamental path leading to meaningful execution.

  1. Research. What do you know about your target or ideal candidate? What can you dig up regarding your competitors? Are there any industry trends affecting applicant flow? Is there anything going on with competitors that might cause their employees to be open to pursuing other opportunities? In short, knowledge is power.
  2. Strategy. Based on learning, what do you know about your target recruit? When do they typically make career moves? What does your target audience consider when making a move? Additionally, are your recruiters trained to sell to individual and group preferences when positioning your company’s opportunity?
  3. Creative. Unfortunately this stage is where most employment advertising campaigns start. Employers think they simply need interesting, creative, snappy advertising to get more quality applicants to roll in the door. Unfortunately if that creative is not firmly based in a strategy, success is predicated on luck. Don’t read this to say creative is not important. It is. Good creative and thoughtful messaging can really peak interest in an organization. Making that creative tie to a meaningful strategy is candidate gold!
  4. Placement. Where is your target recruit looking for a job? What messaging really connects with them and compels them to look further into your company (resulting in application)? What message works in what advertising channel? The same message might not work on a job posting as it does on a fan page or YouTube Channel. What’s the best value for impression available?
  5. Measurement. The last step in any effective and cost conscious recruiting campaign is measuring the impact. The goals of a campaign are completely situational. In some cases, low-volume, high-quality applicants are the goal. In other instances, a company may want high volume with heavy front end, automated screening. Whatever the goal, make sure it is clearly defined. With numbers in hand, it’s much simpler to tweak campaigns (messaging, location, timeliness, etc.) or prove to organizational leadership that employment branding initiatives are leading to intended outcomes.

Matt Lowney is the CEO of Practice Recruiters and The Recruiting Call Center. He was previously the EVP of talent & operations at The Buntin Group, Tennessee’s largest advertising agency. Prior, he was director of recruiting for HealthSpring and recruiting manager at DaVita. Connect with him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mattlowney


16 Comments on “Unearthing Employment Brand

  1. I so agree! it is not good enough to merely state that you are an employer of choice, what are you doing to support that? After all, the candidate and client decides that? Very good read. @Busy_BOO

  2. Nice article. I think you captured a fairly common sentiment re: “fluffy.” The most fervent believers in the importance of employer brand are those who’ve taken the path of discovering its value on their own, as you have. Well done and best of luck. @zgeneration

  3. Thanks for a great read Matt. You’ve really done a great job validating the Employer Branding work that Brandemix does. One thing that often goes unmentioned- what about job titles. Think about the mindset shift between calling someone a “Receptionist” vs a “Director of Impressions.” Anyone interested in Employer Branding should attend the presentation entitled “Brands Undercover” at next week’s ERE Conference.

  4. Matt,

    Good article on branding. The one thing companies forget when running recruiting campaigns is that a respondent to an ad, or someone who is recruited, could possibly become a customer. If an individual is treated with dignity, respect, has proper communication with the company during a hiring process, the brand message that individual communicates will be positive even though the employment situation may not have been favorable. The impact on revenue and hiring quality people in the future could be substantial if not handled properly.

  5. Well said, Matt! The vast majority of employment advertising has at its core messages that the target audience does not prioritize in their search (company products, mission, history, values, industry, or trite cliches, like “Best in Class.”) If CMO’s did this, they’d be replaced quickly. As you say, research is critical: Find what is authentic to your employees AND attractive to your candidates.

    If you like the above article, here’s another: http://thehiringsite.careerbuilder.com/2011/12/21/five-tests-of-a-strong-employment-brand-does-your-company-get-a-passing-grade/

  6. Matt,

    Great article. I’d add employer branding applies for the lifecycle of the employee. When we were building the Army Strong program our watchwords were authentic and verifiable. With sites like Glassdoor, etc. candidates will research the information you provide. They will chat with friends via social media about experiences as an employee or as a candidate. The interview process is a two way street. Candidates do “reference checks” on the company just like is done on them.

    The verifiable portion continues once the candidate accepts a position. Should their experience not be what was promised you will have a problem with retention. The Army (and other services) does not have the luxury of hiring mid-level managers and therefore must build a brand platform that works for the entire Soldier lifecycle.

    @Ed – I agree with your point on candidates and customers. From Startwire.com survey: “The survey, with more than 2000 respondents, found that 77 percent of job seekers think less of a company that doesn’t respond to a job application. Going further, 72 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to recommend companies’ products or services, and 58 percent would think twice about buying a product from a company that did not respond to their job application.”


  7. @Ed – Totally agree…product driven brands really should be more sensitive/ realisitc in the way they treat applicants. I’ve spoken to several job seekers that will never do business with a company because of the way they were treated during the application process. I think this also speaks to the internal disconnect between recruiting and marketing functions. In my experience they live operate on completely different islands.

  8. Great article and excellent comments!

    In a world full to the brim of content, its amazing that a clearer picture of what employees experience on numerous fronts are not made a compulsory part of employment marketing and Company Voices are key to the effort…

    Brands are marketed to consumers in so many creative and effective ways its about time that employment brands get a similar treatment for career consumers…

    In the talent landscape of today Employment Branding is the liquid gold underpinning of a successful Talent Acquisition program…a very HOT element indeed!

  9. Matt,

    Great article. Authenticity is certainly key to attracting valuable talent. Employers who establish meaningful connections and engage in targeted one-on-one conversations with job seekers will be successful. They can’t expect to blast a blanketed corporate message, and get qualified responses in return. Instead, employers need to develop a talent community and nurture the relationships to get the best return.

    By the way, did you ever see that video spoof on corporate recruiting that Twitter put out recently? Pretty hilarious. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vccZkELgEsU&feature=youtu.be


  10. @ Lauren:
    Authenticity? Meaningful connections?
    How about decent-paying, decent-benefitted jobs with a functional environment where you don’t have to worry that your colleagues are trying to backstab you and the executives aren’t trying to get rid of you and your colleagues, and a decent work/life balance where you can work hard when you’re there/signed on and not think about your work when you’re not?



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